Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shabbos Elevators and Crocs: Much Ado About Nothing

A ruling by leading authorities in Israel was recently published in a newspaper, prohibiting the use of so-called "Shabbos Elevators" (I, II). This has led to a big confusion, with people objecting and be unsure of how to act.

I'm not sure what the big suprise or confusion is all about. Shabbos Elevators have long been controversial, with authorities on both sides of the issue. See R. Chaim Jachter's four-part essay on this subject (I, II, III, IV). Engineers have attempted to alleviate all possible problems with these elevators but I am not aware that their solutions have been universally accepted. As with most things, this is a matter of debate. I personally never use Shabbos Elevators but I also never really had a need to. The one time I was on a high floor in a hotel in Israel on Shabbos, I used the stairs. But I'm not saying that you have to do that. Ask your rabbi.

Click here for moreWhat concerned me, though, was that the newspaper ruling was blanket. It did not mention that people with extenuating circumstances should consult with their rabbi. There are leniencies, which understandably vary based on a rabbi's views on the relevant subjects but there are nevertheless leniencies in some situations according to everyone. The last thing we need is someone old or sick having a heart attack because they read in the newspaper that leading Torah authorities say they have to take the stairs.

Similarly, there was a bit of a ruckus before Yom Kippur when a newspaper reported that R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv recommends against wearing Crocs on Yom Kippur (link). This is something that he has been saying for years and that the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Orach Chaim 614:5) and R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 210) shared this view. It's a disagreement, and an old one at that.

The bottom line is, as I've been saying for a long time, don't decide halakhah based on what you read in newspapers. Ask your rabbi, just like you did in the past and will continue doing in the future.

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